A pair of Chinese twins who were gene-edited for resistance to HIV may also have ‘supercharged’ brains, along with possible resistance to age-related cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
In a controversial experiment led by Chinese scientist He Jiankui, the embroys of seven couples had their genes “edited” using a tool known as CRISPR. By removing a gene called CCR5, He sought to create a natural immunity to HIV – which requires CCR5 to enter blood cells.
Based on new research, however, twins Lulu and Nana may have also been left with improved memory and enhanced cognition, according to MIT Technology Review. They may also enjoy some degree of protection from Alzheimer’s Disease and other maladies which are rapidly being linked to chronic inflammation, as some groups of mice without CCR5 – or who have been given CCR5 inhibitors, experience less severe dementia or Alzheimer’s symptoms.
“The answer is likely yes, it did affect their brains,” says UCLA neurobiologist Alcino J. Silva, whose lap discovered a link between CCR5 and the brain’s ability to form new connections.
“The simplest interpretation is that those mutations will probably have an impact on cognitive function in the twins,” says Silva, adding that the exact effect on the girls’ cognition cannot be predicted, which is “why it should not be done.”
Jiankui’s human experiments drew harsh rebuke after news of Lulu and Nana’s birth in late October or early November, and has reportedly been fired from his position at the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in Shenzhen, China. Jiankui says there are more gene-edited babies on the way.